By Nick Costelloe
Chief Adventure Officer - Universal Dialect
It’s dark. The dim light from my headlamp is just strong enough to make out the shadow of Juma, who is slowly but steadily progressing through the darkness, up the steep incline. My heart rate is through the roof, and I pause for a moment to glance at my watch underneath heavy clothing layers. It’s 4:45 am. I look up to a magical night sky, where the stardust of the Milky Way Galaxy steals my attention for a moment too long -
“Nick, we’re almost there. Don’t slow your pace or you’ll freeze out here.”
Juma is my trusted guide, leading me up this mountain. And at 18,000 feet, he’s right. I snap myself out of my stargaze, and continue to trek on.
Considering we’ve been trekking since 10pm the night prior, without a break, each step feels heavy, but I continue to think about the goal: Reach the top. After another hour or so of climbing, Juma and I catch sight of the summit and look at each other. With a considerable boost of adrenaline, we race to the large wooden sign which I had been envisioning for years: “Mount Kilimanjaro - 19,341 feet.” Taking it in for a moment, on top of the highest peak in Africa, in beautiful Tanzania, I reflect upon what we had accomplished. We climbed a mountain.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, there weren’t many mountains to climb. And I’m not simply referring to topography here. I’ve had the great fortune of growing up in good health, with a loving family, in a house where there was always food on the table. Childhood was easy and, to be honest, I wasn’t culturally aware enough to understand that the life we had wasn’t all that common. At least not normal on a world scale, where over 1.3 billion people are currently living in poverty. I read once a brilliant saying that claims that there are two lotteries of life that are determined at birth: your parents and your passport. I’ve been lucky enough to have won both by being raised by two incredible parents in the United States.
It’s important to understand where you come from. Understanding your biases and how they impact your thinking is the first step in shifting your perspective and changing your worldview.
When you lack true life obstacles in childhood, you have plenty of time to engage in extracurriculars. For me, I developed a fast love for the game of soccer, and made it my mission to play at the highest level possible. I spent years playing, studying, and learning life lessons through the game. After wrapping up my collegiate soccer career and graduating, I was itching to try new and exciting forms of physical activity.
For years, I’ve wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain on Earth. Despite my desire to reach the summit, I kept making excuses year after year as to why I could not make the trip and attempt the climb.
After one routine day of work in New York City, I realized that I could either continue to postpone my dream of climbing Kilimanjaro, or I could take a leap and book a solo trip.Since there was never going to be a perfect time to take this type of trip, I thought to myself, if not now, then when? So just like that, I booked a flight to Tanzania.
In the months between booking my flight to Tanzania and taking off on the Kilimanjaro trip, my good friend Sean Casey and I developed a social-mission-driven business together. Universal Dialect inspires daily adventure by selling performance apparel to young adults, motivating them to grab life so we can fund our social mission: to give soccer adventures to underprivileged youth across the globe. The best part is that all we do is give the kids soccer balls. When you give kids a soccer ball, they immediately set off on an adventure through the game. Why soccer? Because soccer is the sport most universally loved around the world, and soccer adventures drive happiness.
After booking my flight and purchasing the gear necessary for Kilimanjaro, I connected with a local non-profit which was able to coordinate the distribution of soccer balls to kids at a small school in Moshi, Tanzania.
As I traversed down the mountain, an overwhelming feeling of excitement came over me. At first, I thought it related to the fact that I had just completed my first Seven Summits climb, but then I realized I was truly excited about what was planned for my next few days in Tanzania - the real reason that I was there. Tomorrow was the day that I would be traveling to the school to give out the soccer balls, creating soccer adventures for the kids.
After a much-needed shower, some excellent Tanzanian food, and a great night of sleep, I woke the next day inspired and ready to give away the soccer balls. Early in the morning, I met with a team member of the Knock Foundation and we started over to Chem Chem Day School, where we would be handing out the soccer balls. As we drove over bumpy, undeveloped dirt roads, we passed many Tanzanians on their way to work and school, as well as collapsing homes and abandoned businesses. In that moment, I understood for the first time the true level of hardship that existed in this beautiful country.
As we arrived at Chem Chem, a swarm of Tanzanian kids formed around the car - they must have gotten word of our visit, and their excitement could not be contained. In an effort to organize the group, the school’s headmaster spoke in Swahili to the kids, and they formed a big circle large enough for me to set down the two large bags of soccer balls that represented my purpose here in Tanzania.
A quick look at the kids told the entire story. They were glowing in anticipation, with smiles that stretched across their entire faces. They could hardly contain their excitement and were having a hard time staying still and maintaining the shape of the circle. They wanted to move, to play, to take a soccer ball and adventure.
I was so transfixed on the energy radiating from the kids that I didn’t even notice that the majority of the kids were wearing well-worn school uniforms with holes in them. Others wore socks, but no shoes. I looked around at the small courtyard of Chem Chem. In a makeshift classroom to my left, another group of kids sat on the dirt floor, no sign of desks or chairs, and participated in a class.
And then, it hit me. These kids have a mountain to climb. Dealing with the daily struggles that come with living in a developing country is a mountain of a challenge that these kids were born into.
I opened up the ball bags and called a particularly eager girl forward to receive the first ball. Her reaction was something that I will never forget. Once the ball was in her hands, she thanked me in Swahili, put the ball at her feet, and set off dribbling into the crowd of schoolkids. In a flash, the entire group was in motion - set off towards an open area adjacent to the courtyard, running and shouting expressions of joy and excitement along the way. One young boy ran over to me, grabbed my arm, and took me over to the dirt field where we immediately hopped into the most exhilarating game of pick-up soccer that I’ve ever participated in. Despite the language barrier, I connected with the kids through the adventure of the game. We played, we sweat, we adventured through the beautiful game under the hot Tanzanian sun for hours.
One soccer ball. It took one soccer ball to achieve this adventure. One soccer ball created this much happiness in a group of 50 Tanzanian students. While tackling the problem of global poverty is a daunting task, I knew in that moment we could make a difference by delivering soccer adventures to kids in need all over the world. We could help. We could make a difference. We could help these kids climb mountains.
About one month later, back in the United States, I found myself in front of a group of friends who were asking about my trip to Kilimanjaro. In conversation, they noticed the bold, dark, fresh black ink on my left forearm: a tattoo of a mountain that I got upon my return from Tanzania. When asked what inspired the decision to get this tattoo, my answer was simple. Everybody has their own mountain to climb. Yes, I climbed Kilimanjaro while in Tanzania, but more meaningful to me was the fact that, by giving soccer adventures to these kids at Chem Chem, we gifted them an opportunity to have a daily dose of joy as they continue climbing their own mountains.
I have six of the Seven Summit climbs ahead of me, and I am determined to reach all seven before the age of 30. This goal will not only challenge me physically, but it will also take me to new and unique places all over the world. Countries with kids who could use a little more adventure and happiness in their lives. As I continue to climb mountains, I will continue to work tirelessly to achieve Universal Dialect’s mission of giving out as many soccer adventures as possible. After all, adventure is a Universal Dialect. Cheers to many more adventures, and many more mountains to climb.